What Is Functional Medicine?
Functional medicine is the clinical application of holistic thinking combined with rigorous scientific principles. The term “functional medicine” was first coined about 20 years ago in order to define the comprehensive, multi-specialty, integrative medicine of the future. Functional medicine combines scientific research with innovative tools for accurate diagnosis and safe and efficient medical treatment of complex and chronic conditions. The emphasis is to elucidate how different aspects of an individual’s life – the physical and emotional environment, general lifestyle, as well as genetic factors – can all lead to deviation from health and manifest in disease over time. This is highly relevant today, since the vast majority of chronic conditions seen in clinical practice are attributable to these lifestyle and genetic factors.
Many degenerative or chronic conditions are caused by various combinations of disease triggers and promoters, such as nutritional deficiencies, toxin accumulation, allergenic exposures, emotional stressors, metabolic imbalance, and infectious load in food, water, and air. Additionally, digestive disturbances may cause nutrient malabsorption and exposure to toxic compounds, as in the prevalent “leaky gut” syndrome. Functional medicine practitioners focus on diagnosing the triggers and promoters of disease and the patho-physiological changes that can manifest during disease progression. They utilize advanced, scientific functional laboratory tests and other diagnostic procedures – including comprehensive medical and socio-emotional history – to uncover tacit illness or the initial deviation from health even in the absence of overt or significant symptoms. The goal is to effectively and sustainably address the triggers, promoters, and biochemical imbalances in order to stop the progression of symptoms, reverse them whenever possible, and prevent the appearance of new conditions, while increasing overall wellness and improving the body’s resistance towards disease.
How does Functional Medicine Differ From Allopathic Medicine?
The common approach of allopathic (orthodox) medicine focuses mainly on suppressing the symptoms using artificial substances, which pharmacology and toxicology experts agree are toxic and poisonous for the body, as their central or primary effect. Paradoxically, the occasional alleviation of symptoms is in fact the “side effect.” For example, the allopathic approach would recommend a pill to lower temperature for high fever, prescribe a synthetic pill to elevate mood in treating depression, or a pharmacological anti-inflammatory drugs for simple immune reactions. Functional medicine, on the other hand – rather than simply “chasing symptoms” while ignoring the causes – searches for and addresses environmental factors, nutritional deficiencies, genetic tendencies, biochemical dysfunctions and emotional and social stressors that can together cause the development of symptoms.
Using drugs to suppress the outward expression of underlying dysfunctions does not truly facilitate healing. The causes continue to accumulate until there is a perceived “need” to use even more poisonous drugs, in ever-increasing doses, which inevitably cause new illnesses. This leads to gradual (sometimes rapid) deterioration of the patient’s health, which the orthodox allopath assumes is “the normal progression of disease” – when in fact it is the toxic intervention (and the neglect of causes) that created this deterioration. Consequently, a “statistic” is born, allowing the practitioner to “predict” the unfortunate outcome of treatment, thereby creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. The chronic orthodox disregard for environmental or nutritional causes is the reason for the ever-present “idiopathic diseases” – which is the medical textbook’s description for syndromes or conditions that allegedly have “no known cause.” Therefore, pharmacological symptom suppression, despite its toxicity and futility in addressing chronic disease, becomes justified as the only viable therapy by “conventional” medical training centers (benefiting the Medical Industrial Complex and big Pharma). By diagnosing and treating the underlying causes (or just a few of them) in a scientific manner, functional medicine practitioners can promote improvement or healing of many health conditions considered chronic or incurable by allopathic doctors.
Functional medicine is characterized by a personalized approach to each patient, since similar symptoms or dis-eases can derive from different causes. The patient is approached as a whole being of integrated body, mind, and spirit.
The clinical application of functional medicine is based upon a profound knowledge of the following:
- Physiological and biochemical function of the body, from the cellular level to the organ and system level.
- The biochemical uniqueness of each individual, based on personal and family history, environmental and nutritional exposure, life style, genetics, and emotional factors.
- The appropriate clinical interventions for beneficial alteration of gene expression.
- The basic biological processes in all the body systems and their mutual interactions, requiring integration of all areas of medical specialization.
- The influences of nutritional, environmental, social, emotional, and physical factors on human function.
- Scientific diagnostic tests (functional lab tests) designed to expose non-linear diversity of causes for any health complaint: Each symptom may have several factors acting simultaneously, therefore the treatment has to be multifaceted, relying on scientific diagnosis of multiple elements of health.
How Functional Medicine Defines Health and Disease:
The Functional Medicine Model defines “health” as complete physical, social and emotional vitality, and not as the mere “absence of detectable pathological signs and symptoms.” Functional Medicine defines “sickness” not merely as a combination of pathological signs and symptoms, but as a continuous process that starts with a slight deviation from health. This model expresses a unique medical approach that offers highly individualized treatment, which focuses on achieving health goals through optimally improving biochemical and physiological function. This is expressed by the following overlapping principles:
- Having no symptoms is NOT an indication of health.
- Lack of medical evidence for the existence of illness (by routine physical examinations and typical lab tests that can only detect advanced pathology) is NOT a demonstration of health.
- Even a relatively minor symptom can point to a diagnosable disease worthy of non-toxic treatment, despite the absence of pathological medical evidence for illness. Dismissal of patients as being merely “hypochondriacs” or “hysterical” or “mental” is very rare in functional medicine.
- Even when apparently there are no symptoms at all, scientifically diagnosing nutritional, biochemical or metabolic deviations (utilizing functional lab tests along with complete medical history) may prove the existence of departure from health. Treating the patient to reduce those deviations may improve health in a predictable and measurable way, thereby enhancing the patient’s quality of life.